The Pizza House is empty of customers but has been doing a brisk takeout business.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Daily Grind and the Pizza House have been operating in Adams for 23 and 28 years respectively.
The former is a classic diner where relaxed regulars nursing breakfast and coffee at four tops blend seamlessly with diners wolfing down a quick egg sandwich or burger at the counter. The latter has delivery drivers running behind the counter picking up stacks of steaming pizza boxes while customers pick up orders on the way home from work.
The Grind certainly does its fair share of takeout and the Pizza House's dining room sees plenty of action as well. But if you asked most locals they would associate one with eating in and one with taking out.
They have both been operating very similarly since the Covid-19 outbreak forced Gov. Charlie Baker to mandate that the restaurant industry offer only delivery or takeout and closed dining rooms across the state to eat-in customers.
Most businesses will be hit hard by the economic impact of the virus but the restaurant industry in particular is expected to take a pounding. Especially in Berkshire County, where most eateries are family owned and are already dealing with a declining, aging, and less financially secure population.
The Varellas moved their pizzaria from North Adams to Adams in 1992 and have operated out of their current spot on Hooasc Street since 1998. Stacy Varellas is the matriarch of the family and can usually be found in the kitchen along with her son Pete and daughter-in-law April. Pete and April's three children also pitch in of course.
April had a perfect answer when asked what the percentage of eat-in versus takeout is.
"Well right now I can tell you it's zero percent eat-in!" she said laughing.
"We initially thought we were going to be slower because we usually have a lot of eat-ins at lunchtime and busier delivery at night. And who knows with everybody's questionable financial situations. People may be losing their jobs ... I don't know."
It had only been three days since the ban on eat-in dining but Varellas said business had been picking up as people get used to the new rules.
"The first day [Tuesday] was wicked slow. We just thought we were not going to be able to stay open. Somebody called and actually wasn't aware whether they could come in to pick up at first," she said on Thursday. "Then last night [Wednesday] we were slammed, we were slammed today at lunchtime. We were very busy."
She asked one of her workers if they were just as busy the last couple days as they usually are and she quickly agreed.
Varellas then relayed a story that hopefully becomes more common in small towns across the region.
"Adams Community Bank called today to place a big order and they said they'll be calling every week to place one in order to support the community, and they left her a big tip!" she said, as she nodded to her delivery driver. "It was really good of them to do that, really nice."
Varellas is well aware of other's uncertain futures and considers the Pizza House lucky in some respects.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people are losing their jobs and when we first heard about the restaurant mandate it was really ... devastating at first ... scary. But we are very lucky that we have a well-established takeout and delivery business already so for us it's a little better," she said. "If they put out any other mandates like no food from restaurants? That's a problem obviously."
Ben Acquista and his wife, Nancy Pedercini-Acquista, have owned and operated the Daily Grind on Park Street for 23 years. The changed locations just once when they moved from 57 to 37 Park. Coincidentally, they opened on St. Patrick's Day 1997 as takeout only and as of St. Patrick's Day 2020, they are back to takeout only again.
He runs the restaurant while she teaches English at Hoosac Valley High School. Their son, Dom, just finished his truncated freshman year at Bowdoin while their daughter, Sophia, is a senior at Hoosac. In many ways, they are a typical Berkshires family. Of course, there is nothing typical these days.
Their Daily Grind is a classic diner. Political discourse, lingering breakfasts in the dining area and quick lunches at the counter. They do plenty of takeout but have never offered delivery. They face the same challenges now as the Pizza House. Ben Acquista is finding the early going uneven but encouraging.
"We've had certain times we're busy and certain times we're dead. It's only been a few days so it's hard to get a handle on it. The only part that has really suffered perhaps has been the breakfast. Breakfast is a little weird to take out but the people who have have been super happy with it," he said on Thursday. "Normally we're probably 30 percent takeout and the rest eat-in.
"We have been blessed with people trying to look out for us. I have customers with gift certificates who aren't using them because they want to make sure we're taken care of. Our customers have been great."
Acquista is trying to keep things as normal as possible for everyone.
"We wanted to keep the same hours and make sure any of the staff who wanted to work could work. We wanted to try to keep payroll the same and all that. So far we're able to do that."
Local grocery store shelves are being cleaned out through a mixture of genuine need and unnecessary panic, which begs the question about availability of provisions for restaurants moving forward. Acquista said so far so good, except for one hitch.
"We have not had a problem getting anything. Is it an anxiety? Yes, but so far unfounded. I did sweat to-go containers coming in. A couple of times we were down to our last couple soup lids, too. Now I know to order a couple," he added laughing.
Both restaurants have taken the opportunity to perform a spring cleaning now that customers aren't an obstacle. Tables and chairs are stacked and floors cleared for scrubbing and shampooing. Surfaces were spotless and bathrooms shining. All for naught for the moment.
When asked about how far they dare project forward, Acquista and Varellas had similar answers.
"We assume like we're going to do this right through it," Acquista said. "If, God forbid, the government says we're going to go shelter in place and we can't, then we'll go from there."
"We've thought about it but you can't really plan ahead, except to say, 'We're OK for now and we're going to take it day by day,'" Varellas said.
When describing how her husband's general demeanor has been a boon in the early going of this crisis, Nancy Pedercini-Acquista might have inadvertently given all of us the sagest advice of all.
"Ben has a 'keep calm and carry on' attitude. He's not a hysterical person by any means. His calming nature helps this business normally anyway."
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Adams Board of Health Ready to Finalize Tobacco Regulations
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health wrapped up final edits on new tobacco regulations last week and inched closer to a public hearing.
Members answered some lingering questions Wednesday in regard to the proposed tobacco sales permit and hope to vote on a final draft next month.
"Thank you for going through this with a fine-toothed comb," board member David Rhoads said. "It looks good."
Some months ago, the Board of Health agreed to implement a new regulation that would limit the amount of tobacco sales permits allowed in town. The new regulation would not affect those already selling tobacco.
Director of Community Development Donna Cesan said the town has decided to terminate the proposal process for the Memorial Building redevelopment with the hopes of reissuing the RFP again in September.
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Council on Aging Director Erica Girgenti said COVID-19 has created new challenges for seniors and elder services throughout the country are finding new ways to protect the community's most vulnerable.
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